It happens to most travelers eventually: automatic check-in systems go berserk; bad weather causes long flight delays or cancellations and airlines overbook.
When this happens, vacations are cut short by time wasted sitting in crowded airport waiting areas, business travelers miss key appointments and long-distance travelers miss connecting flights.
While there is no way to calculate the full cost of losses, traveler can take advantage of basic rights to obtain some amount of compensation. Switzerland follows the air passenger rights charter of the European Union (EU). This charter applies to all airlines which are licensed in EFTA and EU member countries.
The most important questions are answered here:
Question: An airline overbooked and I wasn’t able to board the airplane. Can I claim my money back?
Answer: Yes. If you have a valid ticket but are denied boarding or volunteer to surrender your reservation when asked to do so by the airline, you have the right to claim reimbursement of your airline ticket and this should be paid out within 7 days.
There are limits to the reimbursement you can claim. These limits are: the equivalent of 250 euros for flights of 1500 kilometers or less; 400 euros for flights with ranges between 1500 or more; the equivalent of 600 euros for flights to destinations outside of EU and EFTA countries with a range of 3500 kilometers or more.
You also have the right to follow through with the trip using an alternative solution provided by the airline if you so choose (via an alternative flight, for example). If the airline provides an alternative flight which gets you to your destination no more than 2 hours (1500 km or less), 3 hours (more than 1500 km) or 4 hours (3500 km or more to or from a destination outside of EU/EFTA) later than you would have arrived with the original flight, you can only claim 50% of the compensation amounts listed above.
Question: My flight was cancelled. Can I claim compensation from the airline?
Answer: Yes. The same rules apply in this case as apply to other instances in which you are denied boarding (above) in that the airline has to reimburse your ticket or provide alternative flights. Airlines are freed from their obligation to reimburse your ticket if the circumstances leading to the cancellation could not have been avoided by the airline (bad weather, for example), although they still have to arrange alternative flights.
Question: I am physically disabled. Can I claim special benefits when a flight is delayed or cancelled?
Answer: If your disability causes reduced mobility, you and those accompanying you have the right to receive meals, refreshments, hotel accommodation (when overnight or extended stays are necessary) and transport between the airport and place of accommodation free of charge when a flight is cancelled or delayed for any length of time.
Question: My flight was delayed and I had to spend an extra hour in the airport. Am I entitled to compensation?
Answer: No, because the delay was relatively short. If a flight is delayed by more than 2 hours (1500 km or less), 3 hours (more than 1500 km) or 4 hours (more than 3500 km to or from a destination outside of EU/EFTA), you have the right to claim a reasonable amount of meals and refreshments paid for by the airline. If the flight will only take place the day after it was scheduled (or several days later, you have the right to claim hotel accommodation and transportation from the airport to the hotel and back paid for by the airline.
Question: I booked a business class ticket but had to fly in economy class because the airline had overbooked the business class. Can I get a refund?
Answer: Yes. If you are downgraded to a lower class than the one your reserved, you can claim reimbursement of 30% (1500 km or less), 50% (more than 1500 km) or 75% (more than 3500 km to or from a destination outside of the EU/EFTA or French overseas territories) of the price of your ticket.
Question: If an airline were to seat me in business or first class because economy is overbooked, would I have to pay for a first class or business ticket?
Answer: No. If an airline deliberately places you in a higher-class coach, they cannot charge you any markup on your ticket whatsoever. You can enjoy a first or business class flight for the cost of an economy ticket.
Question: My luggage was damaged after I checked it in. Can I claim compensation?
Answer: Yes. As long as the damage was obviously caused by the airline and not by a pre-existing defect, you can claim compensation of up to the equivalent of 1000 special drawing rights (approximately 1300 Swiss francs). You can get more compensation if you declared the value of your luggage to the airline ahead of your flight (when you checked it in, for example). The airline is also liable to pay if they damage your hand luggage during the flight. Claims must be made directly to the airline within 7 days of the time you received your luggage from the airline.
Question: My luggage was delayed. Can I get the airline to pay?
Answer: If your baggage arrives late, you can claim compensation of up to approximately 1300 Swiss francs. You must file the claim directly to the airline within 21 days of the time you received your luggage from the airline. In practice, many airlines will only refund expenses at their discretion, and only purchases seen as absolutely necessary are normally refunded.
Question: Can I claim compensation for lost luggage?
Answer: Yes. Baggage is considered to be lost when it is delayed for more than 21 days from the end of a flight, or when it is permanently lost. You can claim up to around 1300 Swiss francs for lost luggage, although airlines will typically use the actual cash value of the baggage when determining how much they will pay out.
Question: I missed a flight because the check-in counter was closed by the time I arrived at the airport. Can I get reimbursed?
Answer: No. You are required to check-in within the time frame stipulated in your agreement with the airline. If you fail to do so, the fault for the missed flight rests with you and you have no right to claim reimbursement. However, some airlines may be accommodating and place you on an alternative flight – either at no additional charge or for the difference in price between your forfeited ticket and the replacement ticket.
Question: My flight arrived late and I missed my connecting flight because of the delay. What can I do?
Answer: If the full trip was booked as a single reservation, you can claim full reimbursement of the tickets for all of the missed connecting flights. You can also choose to wait and be placed on another connecting flight. In the meantime, the airline must cover the cost of a reasonable number of meals and refreshments. If your new connecting flight will only leave the following day or several days later, the airline must cover the cost of hotel stays and transportation between the airport and hotel. If the delay was caused by bad weather or other extraordinary circumstances, you cannot claim reimbursement of your ticket but you are still entitled to alternative flights, food and hotel stays.
Question: Does travel insurance benefit me when flights are delayed or cancelled?
Answer: Trip cancellation and interruption insurance covers flights missed due to unforeseeable incidents which result in your missing scheduled flights. It does not cover delays or cancellations by airlines. Trip delay coverage covers the cost of refreshments and accommodation resulting from delayed or cancelled flights. This is beneficial because the food and accommodation provided by airlines during delays is often very rudimentary. Luggage delay coverage reimburses the costs of necessary purchases when your luggage is delayed. Both of these coverages are included in some travel insurance policies. Some Swiss credit cards include these coverages as complimentary benefits.